Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Hawthornes Conclude Their Taste Test Survey Of The Cape Shark.

If you recall, Rosie was invited by the NC Sea Grant Extension Program to be part of a cape shark or spiny dogfish (squalus acanthias) consumer taste-testing study.  There were three sessions - February 2, February 23. and March 15.  Chefs Johanna and Justin Lachine of Café Lachine provided the venue and prepared the cape shark and I'd like to thank them for their participation in this program.

Pretty much 100% of cape shark caught in our waters is sent to overseas markets (Think England and fish and chips.) and the Sea Grant program wants to see if cape shark can be introduced locally to consumers to help diversify the revenue stream for our commercial fisherman.  The Sea Grant program is not about harvesting more fish.  It's about getting more value for the fish that are harvested.  Our local fisherman receive 10¢ a pound when selling their cape shark to Wanchese. The cape shark from Wanchese is then sold to processors in New Bedford, Mass. for 22¢ a pound.  And all the meat and by-products are sold overseas, with New Bedford processors receiving $3.00 a pound.

At each tasting session at Café Lachine, Chefs Lachines came up with three preparations of the cape shark - an appetizer, a salad, and an entrée, which the participants rated on a scale of 1 to 7 on several characteristics - flavor, appearance, aroma, and texture. 

For a recap, here's Dinner #1 and  Dinner #2.

Sara Mirabilio, of the North Carolina Sea Grant Program, was again our knowledgeable hostess.  Ms Mirabilio first introduced local commercial fisherman, Dewey Hemilright, who's been a real champion for trying to get this dogfish processed in North Carolina and supply local markets with it.  Mr. Hemilright is quite a presence, voice, and dedicated advocate for the fishing community. 

I also learned that Mr. Hemilright is a consummate educator and apparently, a bit of a local "celebrity"  Please watch him in this Busch video!  

When Obama proposed opening our coast to offshore drilling, drawing objections from ... well, everybody along the coast,  Mr. Hemilright again let his and our voices be heard.  See here.

The administration, citing complaints from coastal communities, imposed a drilling moratorium through 2022.

 Mr. Hemilright speaks out about seismic testing off the Outer Banks.

Mr. Hemilright, if you're reading this, I applaud you, sir, for your passion, your devotion to cause, your activism, your perseverance, your championship of our environment and fisheries, your commitment to education, and for all you do, not only for this fishing community, but for others as well.  Thank you.

According to Ms. Mirabilio, fisherman were always catching Atlantic spiny dogfish, but they were never a primary target because they were going after cod, haddock, and flounder.  When those stocks started to decline, federal managers actually encouraged fishermen to go after the dogfish, so called because they travel and hunt in packs.  Here's a definite problem and mindset:  "Oh, we're going to take pressure off this fishery and put pressure on another fishery."  And then that fishery gets in a bad way.  Now, we're trying to be concerned with the ecosystem and approach in such a way that it's not abused.  Eat with the ecosystem, seasonally, to even out the pressures in the different fisheries.

The pressure to go after the spiny dogfish led to a late 80s and early 90s collapse of dogfish stock.  In 2010, the fishery was considered rebuilt.  Right now, there are strict regulations designed to prevent this decline from happening again.  Bottom line, the dogfish is not overfished.

According to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commision:
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) encouraged commercial fishermen to target the bountiful stocks of spiny dogfish in the 1980s and 1990s when stocks of other commercially valuable fish in the Northeast declined. Then in 1998, NMFS determined that spiny dogfish were overfished and implemented stringent harvest restrictions in federal waters to allow the stock to rebound. The states followed shortly after with complementary regulations for state waters. Today, commercial fishermen catch spiny dogfish using longlines, trawls, and purse seines. Fishermen target female dogfish because the females grow larger than males and tend to school together. Processors prefer the larger dogfish because they are easier to hold and cut. The commercial fishery supplies the European food fish markets that use dogfish "belly flaps" for fish and chips in England and as a popular beer garden snack called shillerlocken in Germany.

Sara reiterated points made at the last session about the lengthy gestational period of the dogfish.  The females were twelve years old and the males were six when they started to be reproductively active. Average litter size is 6-7 pups and it takes from18 to 24 months to have them.  Because of the decline in the late 80s and 90s, there were not a lot of male and female dogfish out there.  The fishery managers are aware of this, so quotas were set so this wouldn't happen again.

The dogfish was being fished for actively, but more people were going after higher value fish like cod and flounder.  When those fisheries went down, in 80s and 90s, you see a direct spike up for spiny dogfish.  By the turn of the century,  the dogfish fishery hit rockbottom.  The low, according to Sara, was not because the fish weren't there, there was a low because regulators said, "No more fishing for it."

The benchmark set was 2010, because that was the level that there would be enough mama and papa fishies out there to keep the population going.

Sara had slides showing the ups and downs of the fisheries, which I couldn't see from my table.  As I say,  I always sit in the back of the room, with my back to the wall, so's I can case the joint.  It's a matter of paranoia and self-preservation.

This is when Mr. Hemilright offered his views on the issues:

The thing to look at is that spike (from Sara's slide show) in the middle.  That's when most of your fish were being exported. Probably 95% were being sent overseas to England for fish and chips and therefore, the effort increased as there was no limit.  Back in the day, you could fish 365 days a year and catch all you want and then they went to zero.  What they should've done was have a constant harvest of 5000 pounds.  This is why we had the so-call collapse of the fishery.

Up North, they're only allowed to use a certain size net which is a six-inch mesh so they're going to catch the larger fish which are the females.  That's what you're basically harvesting, your female shark.  And so what they've done now is taken it for stock and said it would take 19 years to rebuild.  Well, it rebuilt itself in about 8 years.

The quota is around 40,000,000 pounds for the entire East Coast and North Carolina gets 14%.  Allocations today are based on allocations from 1981 and Massachusetts has always been the top harvester.  In 2000, when they limited harvesting, a quota of 6000-8000 pounds was set.  Before the fish ever got to North Carolina, Massachusetts was catching them all.  North Carolina fishermen finally said, "Enough is enough.  We need support."  So now, we have state by state allocations.  The fish migrate south in the fall and back north in the spring.  Massachusetts would catch most of the when they started migration and there was just a lack of management effort on the part of North Carolina.  It took about 7-8 years of sitting at the table and not saying anything.  The whole range of the dogfish is Canada to Florida, but primarily Maine to Carolina.  If you're a state that never went after dogfish, you're not going to be allocated that much.  According to Hemilright, the minimal allocation is for Delaware.  They never fished that much for dogfish and their allocation is about 250,000 pounds, which is not a lot.  Between North Carolina and Massachusetts, we make up 68% of the harvest.

Because of the migration of the dogfish and the mild December weather we had, this series of taste test programs had to be delayed for three weeks since the dogfish hadn't yet started their migration south and no one was catching the fish.  The waters were just too warm.  Because the migration sorts itself out by natural movement of the fish, there's not a strict window for these fish like authorities impose on other types of fish.

According to Hemilright, cape shark availability in North Carolina is typically from November to about April or May.  That's kind of the season, but generally it's whenever the fish show up.  It could be in December or January.  It opens when the fish are available.  After showing up in Dare County, the cape shark work their way south.  North of Wilmington is about the last commercially viable place for fishing them.  About April and May, we have the push of southwesters and warmer waters which move the shark back to northern, cooler waters.

In North Carolina, Hemilright explained, most of the cape shark are caught within three miles of the coast.  A three mile limit is imposed on state water fisheries with a 20,000 pound trip limit, which seems like a lot, but it's really not.  Past the three mile limit is federal water and you need an official permit to fish there.  I believe the quota is 6000 pounds in official fisheries.  The problem occurs when states north of here are coming down to North Carolina to land dogfish.  What commercial fisherman are trying to do is to get the feds to let them fish whether you're in state or official waters.  Say you're fishing state waters and catch 7000 pounds of fish, well under the limit.  If you wanted to go over to federal waters to catch bluefish, then you'd end up throwing back over 1000 pounds because of the difference in limits.  This is what the commercial fisherman are trying to get changed.

Cape shark has traditionally been a low-value fish.  I believe North Carolina gets 16¢/pound whereas Massachusetts fisheries get 19¢ for it.  In 2014, Massachusetts was actually getting 11¢ more a pound than North Carolina.  For North Carolina, this price difference would have resulted in an additional $170,000 to $620,000 in revenue.  This represents wholesale value, not retail and this is why fishermen, suppliers, and processors are trying to build a local market and demand for the cape shark.  Other groundfish stocks usually yield $2 or more per pound, so our fishermen need to get more money for cape shark for it to be economically viable.

Now, let's eat!

Here's Dinner #3:
 For our appetizer course, Chefs Lachines served  benne (sesame)-crusted cape shark napped with a benne tahini (too bland) and served with farrotto and a roasted acorn squash purée.  Farro, a savory, ancient wheat grain, was prepared a la risotto.  I loved the nutty earthiness of the farro.  As for the shark, I still have a problem with the texture.  I want something "toothier."

 Our salad course is a Caesar Salad with shaved Parmesan, roasted tomatoes and kalamata olives and Cape Shark Croquettes.  The croquettes were nicely fried, although I think I would have preferred them with a dipping sauce, say a remoulade, but this is supposed to be a salad course.  And I've said this before and I'll say it again:  No one, I mean NO ONE, makes a Caesar Salad better than the Hawthornes.  At least I haven't found it yet.

 Our entrée, and my favorite offering this evening, was spicy blackened cape shark. The spiciness was nicely balanced with the mildness of sweet corn purée and herbed polenta cake.  A lovely green bean tempura accented this dish. I liked the creaminess of the polenta cake, but I would have preferred it sautéed for that extra texture. 

Bottom line:  Gimme some fish 'n' chips!

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